Tuesday on the “Baseball Tonight with Buster Olney” podcast, reporter and prospect expert Keith Law said the Phillies were his “sleeper team” for acquiring Japanese pitcher/hitter Shohei Ohtani. Law noted the Phils have enormous payroll flexibility and a young team, which could draw Ohtani, and said that while the Phils aren’t a favorite, they probably have better odds at landing Ohtani than the average fan would tend to believe.
This makes sense. While the Phils don’t have the drawing power of the Yankees, Dodgers or Mariners – three of the four favorites with the Rangers – they might actually be just a step down from them in the running.
So what would it take for the Phils to land the Japanese Babe Ruth?
First off, Ohtani is worth it. A 23-year-old pitcher who throws three to four plus pitches, he has a career 2.52 ERA with 624 strikeouts and 200 walks in 543 innings for the Nippon Ham Fighters. Scouts would say he’s an ace right now in the major leagues.
He’s also a hitter, and for the Fighters hit .286/.358/.500 in 1,170 career plate appearances. He has pop (22 home runs in 2016) and carries a good strikeout-to-walk ratio (better than 3-to-1 last year). He was injured last season but still put together a solid season, mostly from the plate. While he wouldn’t be a stud hitter in the majors, it’s likely he’d be worth plugging into a lineup a few times a week. This works better in the American League, as he could play designated hitter, but Ohtani also can play right field without much problem.
Okay, back to the main question: What would it take for the Phils to land Ohtani? Here’s the pitch:
Whether or not Ohtani values money highly, the Phillies have it and can give it to him. Any team wanting to talk with Ohtani will have to pony up $20 million once he posts, and the Phils can eat that no problem. From there, an initial contract bonus is limited to $3.5 million (on top of a minor league contract). The Phils can only offer Ohtani $900,000, as that’s all that remains in their international spending pool. So that’s a small issue.
But it’s beyond that initial contract where the Phils can be tempting. While Ohtani’s agent doesn’t want teams to submit financial figures, the Phils can simply show his team the insane amount of payroll they haven’t yet spent. If Ohtani is seeking a deal down the line starting with $25 million per season, the Phils can easily do it, and as soon as possible.
Ohtani is 23, which means there’s an entire major league career ahead of him. Not only that, but he’d be arriving in Philadelphia with peers in the same stages of major league development. The Phils can boast to him how exciting it would be for him to grow with a core of Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, Odubel Herrera, Aaron Nola, JP Crawford, Jorge Alfaro and others. While the Phils can’t promise championships, they have reason to boost their prospects far into the future. Ohtani should be competing for a title in 2020, 2022 and 2024 with the Phils. Few teams can negotiate that pitch.
He’s the man
If he goes to the Yankees, Ohtani is following in the footsteps of Japanese stars like Masahiro Tanaka, Hideki Matsui and Hideki Irabu. In Los Angeles he’d be following Kenta Maeda, Yu Darvish, Hiroki Kuroda and Hideo Nomo. In Seattle the shadow of Ichiro lingers. Sure, the experience of having Japanese players in the organization – and the wealth of creature comforts available for Japanese players in New York, LA and Seattle – may be a big draw card, but the Phils can spin this on its axis: Shohani, you’d be the first.
The Phillies’ history with Japanese stars is small but notable: Tadahito Iguchi and So Taguchi during the 2007-08 run. That’s it. While we fans embraced Iguchi, we’ve never had a major Japanese star in his absolute prime in Philadelphia. This would be Ohtani’s chance to start his own legacy on his own terms in red pinstripes. He could put Philadelphia on a global map for baseball fans.
All the Phils have to do here is send Ohtani a couple recordings of the 2007 and ’08 playoff runs, plus reminders of the consecutive sellouts at Citizens Bank Park over the years. If he craves an environment where the fans push him to excel, there’s no better place.
If Ohtani wants to hit a couple booming home runs, Citizens Bank Park ranks annually as one of baseball’s premiere dinger palaces. Could that damper his pitching? Just remind him of the talent that has come through CBP and succeeded: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt, Aaron Nola.
The Phillies boast perhaps the premiere spring training ballpark and training facility in Clearwater, Florida. Heck, Clearwater is often looked at as a center of spring training activity. Plus the Phils have invested millions into sports science, analytics and new facilities in the Dominican Republic. While he may not ever need the latter, it’s nice to know that this franchise is upgrading with a long view.
Halladay affiliated himself with the Phillies after he retired. Lee wanted to be in Philadelphia and loved living here. Hamels still has a home here. Players routinely either come back to Philly or simply stay around, either as part of the organization or just to be in the city.
Players often consider the Phillies a class organization, one that looks after its former talent, even those with short careers in pinstripes. Plus, if you had a moment as a Phillie, you’re probably going to get treated really well by us fans. New York and LA are vast cities and, let’s face it, the legacies of these franchise reeks of mothballs and dust. The Phils are still fresh despite their old age, and the city is communal, strong and proud. If Ohtani values where he lives, he can easily find a home in Philly.
Is it possible?
Still, the Yankees, Dodgers, Mariners and Rangers have the leg up on Ohtani. American League teams in general have an advantage because of the designated hitter. But the Phils can be creative (and probably should – have you seen this coaching staff?) in pitching a pitching and hitting discipline to Ohtani.
Moreover, they have everything he’d need to have a fruitful and exciting career. So while they may not be favorites, yeah, the Phillies have a shot at Ohtani. They should inquire, go hard for him, and do everything they can to shock baseball by bringing him aboard.